Forty-nine Years Ago Today: Bill Ruckelshaus Sworn in as first Administrator of US EPA

Last week, Bill Ruckelshaus, the first Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, passed away.  He was one of the great leaders of modern American environmentalism, leading US EPA twice (1970-1973 and 1983-1985), appointed as Deputy US Attorney General by President Nixon in 1973, and then forced to resign soon thereafter in the famed “Saturday Night Massacre” which ultimately precipitated Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency because of Watergate.  Coincidentally, today marks an important historical milestone for him and EPA – forty-nine year ago, Bill Ruckelshaus was sworn in as the first Administrator of EPA.

Even though he was one of the great heroes of our times, for all he has done, his work was not without blemishes.  One area of concern was his leadership and direction of EPA on environmental justice issues.  As has been widely reported over the years, and acknowledged by EPA itself, the Agency’s enforcement of Title VI has been one of its most troubled and criticized programs.  In June 1971, early in his first tenure as EPA Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus testified before the US Civil Rights Commission about the Agency’s stance on enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  While Ruckelshaus readily acknowledged the applicability of the requirements of Title VI to EPA, he also described his perception of tension between vigorous Title VI enforcement and the achievement of the objectives of federal environmental statutory objectives, such as federal water quality standards. At the time, he seemed to attribute that tension to the role of EPA as a regulatory agency and the attendant difficulties of applying the funding suspension remedy of Title VI in the event of a violation.

One can’t help but wonder how much of his ambivalence about the relationship of civil rights enforcement and environmental enforcement might have filtered down to the rest of the Agency.  Regardless, for many years following its creation, EPA failed to enforce the requirements of Title VI as vigorously as it did the requirements of the federal environmental statutes.  And the rise of the environmental justice movement with its claims of environmental racism and discrimination, including its criticisms of EPA’s handling of these issues, is now well-established history.

Of course, all of that potential criticism must be seen in light of the enormous task that he faced in leading a brand-new federal agency under the close scrutiny of Congress and a whole nation in the early 1970s.  A passage from an EPA history article written in 1993 sums it up well:

When sworn in as administrator of the new Environmental Protection Agency on December 4, 1970, William D. Ruckelshaus shouldered the massive responsibility of organizing and leading the federal government’s most recent effort to protect the American people from the effects of pollution. He approached his task with the optimism and high expectations of someone setting out on a new endeavor. By the end of his initial term in 1973, he could identify with Sisyphus–the ancient Corinthian king forever condemned to pushing a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down just short of the top. Ruckelshaus and his successors experienced the sisyphus effect every time the American people demanded a healthy and beautiful environment, but expressed uncertainty about the extent to which the federal government should act to achieve those ends.

Dennis Williams, The Guardian:  EPA’s Formative Years, 1970-1973 (1993),

The passage still rings true today in the work of the dedicated career staffers at EPA and other environmental agencies who remain committed to their institutional mission regardless of changing political winds.  It is that spirit that marks today, December 4, 2019, as the 49th anniversary of the swearing-in of the late Bill Ruckelshaus as the first Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Fellowship: Menapace Fellowship in Urban Land Use Law, Municipal Art Society, New York City (Deadline 1/31/2020)

The Ralph C. Menapace Fellowship in Urban Land Use Law

Applications Due: January 31, 2020

New York City has been both the laboratory and battleground for innovations in land use regulation, including urban environmental controls, zoning, open space, and historic preservation. Legislation drafted or refined through litigation in New York has provided the model for land use laws throughout the country.

The Ralph C. Menapace Fellowship, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), gives recent law school graduates an opportunity to acquire first-hand experience in the legislative process, litigation, and advocacy before New York’s regulatory bodies. It provides the intensive learning experience of a judicial clerkship with a greater opportunity for independent, creative work in finding solutions to new and persistent problems in urban life.


The Menapace Fellow will be involved in litigation, legislative work, and the preparation and delivery of testimony in proceedings before state and federal administrative bodies, as well as the City Planning Commission (CPC), Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), Board of Standards & Appeals (BSA), and the City Council. The Fellow will also serve as in-house counsel, assisting in corporate and non-profit law matters for MAS.

The Fellow’s term, to commence in September 2020, will run for a mandatory two-year period. The Fellowship is a salaried position, commensurate with a judicial clerkship, and offers standard MAS benefits. The Fellow will work under the supervision of the Vice President for Policy and Programs in the MAS office at 488 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Interested candidates should email a cover letter indicating the basis of their interest, resume, legal writing sample (no longer than ten pages), and transcript by January 31, 2020 to Interviews will be conducted the week of March 23, 2020.


The Menapace Fellow will receive further guidance from MAS’s General Counsel and Law Committee, which comprises distinguished attorneys with expertise in land use and zoning, real estate, non-profit, environmental, and municipal law fields. The current Law Committee is chaired by Earl Weiner, General Counsel, MAS and Senior Counsel, Sullivan & Cromwell, LLP. Committee members include Frank Chaney, Of Counsel, Rosenberg & Estis, P.C.; Katrina Kuh, Professor of Law, Pace Law School; Kimberly Ong*, Senior Attorney, National Resources Defense Council; Robert Pigott, Vice President and General Counsel, Phipps Houses; Paul Proulx, Partner, Carter, Ledyard & Milburn LLP; David Schnakenberg*, Of Counsel, GoldmanHarris LLC. The Law Committee meets six times per year, during which the Menapace Fellow provides substantive updates, and strategy for legal advocacy is discussed.

* Former Menapace Fellow


MAS is a civic organization that works to educate and inspire New Yorkers to engage in the betterment of our city. As a non-profit advocacy organization, MAS mobilizes diverse allies to focus on issues that affect our city from sidewalk to skyline. MAS protects New York’s legacy spaces, encourages thoughtful planning and urban design, and fosters complete neighborhoods across the five boroughs devoted to improving the physical environment of New York City.

Founded in 1893, our advocacy efforts have led to the creation of the nation’s first zoning ordinance, early air and noise quality controls, the first billboard legislation, New York’s first tree-planting program, and the establishment of New York City’s Planning Commission, Public Design Commission, and Landmarks Preservation Commission. MAS played a central role in the legal action that saved Grand Central Terminal and the resulting United States Supreme Court decision affirming New York City’s Landmarks Law. MAS also was a key player in the successful court battles over Saint Bartholomew’s Church and Columbus Circle – the latter would have resulted in the largest building ever built in midtown Manhattan at the time.

Recent MAS advocacy efforts have focused on closing zoning loopholes which allow for excessive out-of-context development, exposing shortcomings in the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process, and protecting access to sunlight in the public realm.


The 2020-2022 Menapace Fellow will be engaged in policy development and legal advocacy for current urban land use issues confronting New York City, assisting with ongoing litigation concerning gerrymandered zoning lots, parkland alienation, and Large-Scale Developments.

Since October 2018, MAS has been involved in sequential Article 78 proceedings challenging the illegal, gerrymandered zoning lot at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, upon which a 55-story tower is being constructed. MAS secured a major legal victory in early 2019 when the New York County Supreme Court determined that the BSA acted unreasonably in affirming the Department of Buildings’ decision to issue building permits for the gerrymandered zoning lot. The Menapace Fellow has worked alongside a team of attorneys to bring this lawsuit, assisting with sophisticated legal research and writing, and actively participating in the Article 78 proceeding. Unfortunately, the BSA recently reaffirmed their previous decision upon the Court’s remand, hence a second Article 78 proceeding was filed by MAS in July 2019 to challenge the subsequent BSA resolution.

Additionally, MAS is currently a Petitioner in a lawsuit involving Marx Brothers Playground, a public park and jointly operated playground (JOP) which was alienated on behalf of a private developer who is seeking to build a 700-ft residential tower in one of the most park-starved neighborhoods of the city. While the New York County Supreme Court correctly determined that Marx Brothers Playground and the other 267 JOPs in New York City are parks protected by the New York State Public Trust Doctrine, MAS and its partners are currently appealing this decision which failed to recognize the City’s violations of the SEQRA and CEQR processes. The Menapace Fellow is working with outside counsel to research and draft the appellate brief; the 2020-2022 Fellow will likely have the opportunity to similarly engage in appellate advocacy.

MAS also served as Amicus Curiae in a recent lawsuit brought by the City Council and the Manhattan Borough President to challenge the City Planning Commission’s approval of a proposed mega-development project in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Manhattan without Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) review. The Court’s August 2019 decision marked another victory for MAS: the project has been enjoined until ULURP is completed.


The Fellowship is named in honor of Ralph C. Menapace, Jr., a distinguished lawyer, active civic leader, and MAS President and General Counsel who died in 1984. Mr. Menapace, a graduate of Yale Law School and a partner in the firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel, championed the preservation of landmarks, the protection and enhancement of parks, and the creation of more sensitive zoning tools to guide new development. He was an invaluable resource for community groups, government agencies, and civic organizations.

Swearing-in Ceremony for New Members of the California Bar

I was so proud to see a number of my former students get sworn in as new members of the California Bar in the Mission Church on the Santa Clara University campus.  Today’s joining the bar as full-fledged attorneys is the last stage of the transformation they started more than three years ago, when I first met them in my all 2016 1L torts course.  Even though I have been teaching law for more than two decades now and seen many classes of students successfully make this journey, both here at Santa Clara and at Vermont Law School, I am still amazed at the personal and professional growth that students undergo.  Congratulations to all!

Fellowship: Univ. of Arizona Law School, Natural Resource Use & Management Clinic (Tucson, AZ) (Deadline: Dec. 9, 2019)

Opportunity for recent graduates with an interest in natural resource use and management, western resource issues (including water rights and energy topics), and an interest in an academic fellowship.” “Fellow to assist with the University of Arizona’s Natural Resource Use & Management Clinic, which focuses on collaborative conservation projects focused on western lands and resources issues. Ideally, the fellow will be able to start by the beginning of the spring semester in mid-January in sunny Tucson, AZ.”

The posting is available here: